Hopeful skeptics

The failure of education is that during 16 years students live in a world in which every problem has an answer. Then they graduate to find out that the world is not a model. That reality is more complex than any one answer. As they become adults and formal education clashes with reality the result is frequently anxiety or fanaticism. None are good choices.

Education should embrace ambiguity. Teachers should stop pretending to know it all. My father was an astrophysicist. He had a PhD from Harvard. But his best contribution to my education was to explain to me that whatever I learned was but an approximation to an answer. He was a hopeful skeptic. He thought that through science humanity’s understanding of the world would increase. I am a hopeful skeptic as well. And what I teach my seven children is that what we now call knowledge is but Continue reading “Hopeful skeptics”

A Trump conservative agenda that make sense

I consider myself progressive and liberal. But if I try to put myself in the role of a Republican president here are a list of smart conservative agenda moves that I would consider. To me this list would do much better for Trump than depriving people from health care access, attacking free trade agreements, disrupting the relation with Mexico for no clear objective, attacking global diplomacy by increasing military spending and reducing State Department spending and a series of poor initiatives that Trump is proposing. So here’s what a “good Trump” could do with the tremendous political power he has.

Promote tax changes that create jobs:

Eliminate capital gains tax for anyone who uses the gains from a sale of real estate or financial assets to invest in private qualifying businesses that create jobs.

Health care changes that require going against the Pharma lobby:

Allow government to negotiate prices from Continue reading “A Trump conservative agenda that make sense”

NYC vs Bay Area vs Miami, Pros and Cons based on my experience in those three cities

NYC pros:

Massive and diverse, tremendous amounts of smart ambitious people.

It is the most beautiful city in the USA with great architecture and tremendous choice for different lifestyles. Every neighborhood has a personality.

Unbeatable cultural and entertainment offer. Fantastic night life.

Great educational institutions at all levels.

Extremely well located for travel to Europe, more central than Miami or Bay Area.

It is a walkable city.

It has tremendous study and work opportunities.

NYC cons:

Weather is awful, extremely hot, extremely cold for 8 months of the year, only 4 months of California type weather.

People put too much emphasis on themselves and their careers and less on family and friends.

Too many people are aggressive, arrogant, overworked and stressed out. Even the same people behave this way when they are in NYC and become more sensitive and considerate when they leave even to nearby East Hampton.

Taxes are Continue reading “NYC vs Bay Area vs Miami, Pros and Cons based on my experience in those three cities”

But daddy, how are babies made?

“But daddy how are babies made?”

 

Last Friday, during Shabbat, our daughter, Mia, popped the question: “How are babies made?” Nina, my wife, is 24 weeks pregnant, and Mia, who is only 5, really wanted to know how babies were made.

 

You would think that question is hard to answer to such young a child. Uncomfortable. My first attempt was to try to simplify things. I went for the famous seed story.

 

“You know how at school you have been growing plants? You plant a seed, and then a few days later you see a sprout coming from under the dirt? Well, I planted a seed and mom has a baby in her belly,” I said.

 

“But how. daddy, how did you plant the seed?”

 

“Well, that,” I said, “You will find out when you are older.”

 

“You mean when Continue reading “But daddy, how are babies made?”

The next Trump 

As depressing as Trump counter factual populism is, there is something even more worrying: the conditions that made Trump happen are not going away. These are elite education and a deteriorating job market.
As Trump says he loves the uneducated. And by tying lower education to residence and higher education to income, our society can’t stop producing his type of voters. The best universities in the USA can only accept about 3% of those who turn 18 every year. So a country that provides elite education for only 3% of its population shouldn’t be surprised, that a candidate who preys on the rest with reality TV appeal and groundless proposals, can get elected. 
And then there’s deteriorating job quality. Yes we still have jobs, like we still have car owners. But the trend towards massive automation is about to take a few more exponential steps. And as cars will Continue reading “The next Trump “

The world as seen from San Francisco 

Last night I had dinner in San Francisco with an illustrious group of people. Some of them would arguably be perceived as the smartest people around. Yet their worldview was very biased by their life in Silicon Valley. 
Examples:
A lot of the conversation on inequality centered around how zoning laws are pricing a new generation out of the housing market. True here. Not true in Atlanta, Berlin, Miami. Are restrictive zoning laws a problem? Yes, but are they the reason why there is inequality? Only partly, and depends where. I have another explanation for inequality and that is: inheritances, elite education, uneven distribution of talent.
Another Bay Area centric explanation was that pervasive technology is causing violence. Do we believe that Syrians or Libyans are killing each other because they have Facebook or Twitter? Not really. Hutus and Tutsis killed each other without smartphones and with machetes. I Continue reading “The world as seen from San Francisco “

Leo and I find the future

Today Leo (9) and I were on Messenger, using video, he in Madrid and me in Miami. We were having a long conversation as he walked around Madrid doing different things and I was doing my work. So we were virtually together for quite a while, happy the other person was there, sometimes silently. At some point Leo said to me. Dad, aren’t you glad we live in the future and you and I can do this? My reply was that for a long time I had beeen dissapointed about the future. Fabrice Grinda and I debated this point around 5 years ago and he was the first person who alerted me that the future was finally arriving. He knows I felt that when I was at university in the 80s we believed that by the year 2000 so much would be different, and it wasn´t. But over the last Continue reading “Leo and I find the future”

My elevator is way too dumb

My elevator talks to me. But doesn’t listen. It says  “8th floor” when we get there. But I can’t just say “8th floor” to go up, I have to press a button. And my elevator doesn’t recognize me, nor my voice. So anyone else who is not authorized can go to the 8th floor. I think it’s time that what Nest did to thermostats, somebody does to elevators. Have elevators respond to voice commands and only take authorized users to their floors.  And how about having elevators tell you if your little kids get in by mistake. Or they notice that you walked in and tell your Uber or Lyft “Martin is arriving in 1m”. Or have sensors in the front door that call the elevator down before you get to it.  Or use AI to learn building traffic patterns along the day and save energy and time Continue reading “My elevator is way too dumb”

The “life in bed” economy

Unfortunately yesterday while on a road bike ride in Miami, I crashed. It wasn’t awful. I will be fine soon. But today I have pain in different parts of my body and stayed in bed. The last time I fell off my bike was in 1997. Back then all I could do while in bed was to read a book, speak on the phone and watch TV. 19 years later, in bed, I realize that a tremendous amount of technological effort has been invested in building what could be called the “life in bed” economy. And recovering from a bike accident is a world of choice.

-want to eat in bed? Seamless, GrubHub, Uber eats, and many others will make sure your recently cooked and warm food is home delivered.

-want to socialize in bed? Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp, Messenger, Twitter, Skype, LinkedIn and many others will make that very easy.

Continue reading “The “life in bed” economy”

How to stop rising sea level 

Here’s an idea I had to stop rising sea level. This plan assumes that we will fail at stopping emissions and that rising sea level will be a reality. It is estimated that sea level has already risen 15cm from 100 years ago and that currently sea level is rising around 1cm every 4 years. So the question here is what could make sea level fall 1cm every 4 years and my idea is to use nuclear power to pump water on to the Antartic continent and accumulate it there to compensate for the 25mm or so that sea level is rising every year. Now in order to calculate if this is feasible first we need to know what is the sea level surface around the world and that is 510 million km2. Then we need to calculate the area of Antartica that is above 500m, as you know for Continue reading “How to stop rising sea level “

Let’s stop blaming ourselves for ISIS

The war on terror has been brutal, inhumane, extremely costly and ineffective. But as opposed to what many argue, it is not Western brutality that gave rise to ISIS. European democracies are the kindest social systems around the world. With free health care and education for all, EU nations are more caring than US. And in terms of military interventions in the Middle East US has led in presence and arguably in inhumanity. Yet an estimated 4000 ISIS terrorists were raised in this kind Europe and went to the Middle East to behead Christians, Gays, to enslave women, to destroy history, to kill Shias, to send thousands of families to their death and millions into exile. Some of these terrorists are going back to Europe to bring their terror. We saw that twice in the horrible attacks in Paris, in Brussels, Copenhagen, Toulouse. Am I in favor of Western responses Continue reading “Let’s stop blaming ourselves for ISIS”

What is disappearing from my life and what is replacing it

This is a list of things or activities that used to be more important in my life. And what is replacing them.

-newspapers: Twitter,Facebook,newspaper online apps, news apps.
-magazines:Medium, Tumblr, magazine apps.
-my car: Uber, Lyft
-my desk: iPad lying in the couch.
-cable TV: fiber optic internet.
-linear TV: Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu.
-fix line telephones: smartphones.
-cooking: Seamless
-libraries: Kindle
-CD holders: Spotify
-desktops: tablets
-laptops: smartphones.
-hotels: AirBnB
-movie theaters: large TV displays with video on demand.
-cameras: smartphones
-hard drives: cloud
-paper agendas and calendars: apps
-intercoms: whatsapp from downstairs.
-shopping malls: Amazon
-credit cards: Apple pay, CC inside smartphone
-dictionaries: Google
-printed photography: looking at photographs on iPad
-travel guides: Yelp, Google, Tripadvisor.
-pens, pencils, markers, handwriting: glass keyboards.
-printers: iPad, QR codes.
-alarm clocks: clock app.
-dumb watches: smart watches
-maps and asking for directions: google maps.
-phone calls and texting: whatsapp, viber, Messenger.
Continue reading “What is disappearing from my life and what is replacing it”

Fathers and their boys: the ten year silence

I am a father to three girls and three boys. But this post is only about the father son relationship. More precisely it is about father son communication, or lack of it. First my experience: as a dad it is easy to speak with boys until they are around 8, then there’s a ten year silence and communications restarts after they are 18. From 8 to 18 it is extremely hard for dads to have normal conversations with their boys, or at least that’s been my experience. With Tom, I am still getting over the car rides we took alone on skiing trips when he was 13, we would say one sentence every 100km. Now I am spending a weekend in Menorca alone with Leo (9) and getting a conversation out of him, getting him out of his books, his games, his movies is like getting a splinter out from Continue reading “Fathers and their boys: the ten year silence”

Thanksgiving, but every day

I celebrated 18 Thanksgivings in the USA, then moved to Europe for 19 years and now I am back in the US celebrating Thanksgiving again. Thanksgiving is a US holiday, that as opposed to Halloween, can’t be exported. Because Thanksgiving is mainly about being American. But I have another take on Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is the American holiday that is most about being with your family, which in a career driven society in which family is many times second priority to professional objectives, turns out to be quite uncommon. Thanksgiving is the weekend that makes up for Americans mostly not seeing their family the rest of the year. I don’t have stats on this, but most likely, Europeans, Latin Americans and Asians, see their families much more than Americans do. Therefore they don’t need a holiday whose main purpose is to see their family. Now because Americans see their families Continue reading “Thanksgiving, but every day”

No, this is not WWIII

Recently quite a few people have been using the term WWIII to speak about the new escalation of global terrorism. This is wrong. If the comparison relates the number of victims, we are not anywhere near WWIII. 80 million people died in WWII and the world had 2.5bn people then, if WWIII means something of similar magnitude, 240 million people would have to die in this war today, I think the chances of something like that are incredibly small. The world is safer than it’s ever been. The probability of any of us dying in an armed conflict or victims of terrorism is insignificant. Yes, there are and there will be global terrorists, before it was Al Qaeda, now ISIS,  and yes they maybe will kill around 1000 people per year in the USA and EU during the next decade. I am not denying terrorism, nor saying that it Continue reading “No, this is not WWIII”

VCs and PE firms are at war with each other

As I work on financing Prelude Fertility, the venture that will change the way people start families, a new company that lies in between a private equity investment and a VC investment, I am finding out that there is a real animosity between these two types of firms. For me they are just investors, but they see each other as rivals. And I understand why. PE firms would like for the world to stay the same. VCs invest in change. PE firms bet on the status quo. VCs invest in blowing it up. When PE firms buy a chain of restaurants, they want people to keep buying food the same way, they buy a chain of drug stores, they want people to buy drugs the same way, they buy a car part maker they want people to buy and drive cars the same way. PE firms just want a Continue reading “VCs and PE firms are at war with each other”

3 scientific project ideas for unused embryos

I was reading this article in the New York Times about the many people who had children via IVF, are done with their parenting, and have leftover embryos. In the US alone there are 400,000 leftover embryos so around the world this figure must be in the millions. This means that probably over $200 million is spent annually in storage fees for these unused embryos. The article explains that parents in that situation have the following alternatives: donating them to other parents, discarding them or donating them to science. Science makes sense to many parents except that nobody really knows what donating them to science means, there are no obvious scientific projects to support. So I was thinking of ways to massively donate embryos to science that may make sense to enough people to make the experiment worthwhile. And I came up with three ideas that I will share with Continue reading “3 scientific project ideas for unused embryos”

Architecture is like fashion frozen in time 

The challenge with architecture is that it’s like fashion but frozen in time. Imagine you were walking around NYC and you saw people dressed exactly as they used to in the 20s, 60s, 70s, 80s. You would think you are time traveling. But architecture really is as if somebody had dressed up, say in the 80s, and just wore the same outfit forever. And as it happens with fashion, some outfits are very dated, think Cindy Lauper or its architectural equivalent in NYC, the Trump Tower, or the outfits of Audrey Hepburn, and their architectural equivalent, the Seagram’s building, one forever ugly, the other forever beautiful. Some buildings survive the test of time, most don’t. Maybe towers should be designed, permits submitted and then approved…20 years later.

Follow Martin Varsavsky on Twitter: twitter.com/martinvars

Google is under attack by two highly focused rivals

I was a big fan of Android, but since I got the iPhone 6 plus with the latest iOS updates, I switched to Apple.  Many have done the same.  In the US, Android has been losing market share and is now tied with Android. The reason for this market share loss is that Google is spreading itself too thin. On Android they are losing their grip. There are too many forks such as the Xiaomi, Amazon, Samsung versions that are not controlled by Google. This translates to stock value.  If you see how stock analysts value Google and Apple stocks, around 90% of the value of Apple ($650bn) is due to iOS while around 8% of the value of Google ($450bn) is due to Android. And this is the case even though outside the US Android has 82% market share. But while Android has 81% smartphone market share Apple with Continue reading “Google is under attack by two highly focused rivals”

I was a refugee 

My friends have a hard time to believe it now, but when the Argentine military murdered David Varsavsky (yes little David honors him) we fled the country. We fled to the USA, who thanks to the intervention of Senator Patrick Moynahan, gave us political asylum. So I was a refugee. We were refugees. And I am forever thankful to the USA for saving us. I am saying this now because when I see people in Germany being so kind and accepting of those fleeing Islamic State and Bashar Al Assad and those in the USA so reluctant to take them, it saddens me. It is contradictory to see the nation that was so welcoming to us, ignoring their reality. That their lives are now in danger unarguably has something to do with the poorly handled US intervention in the region. Refugees deserve our help. Refugees are not economic migrants. They Continue reading “I was a refugee “